Keep your complexion clear and help your tools last longer with these tips from the experts.

By PJ Feinstein and Alicia Chilton
Updated April 07, 2021
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For anyone who wears makeup, your brushes get plenty of use, especially if you apply products every day. After a few uses, you'll start noticing your foundation, some blush, a bit of concealer, and other creams and powders build up in the bristles of your brushes. Sure, it's easy to ignore the product accumulation, especially when you're getting ready in the morning and need to get your day started ASAP. But though it can seem harmless to forego cleansing your brushes, it's not a step you should skip. As time goes on, all of that build-up can cause skin irritation, acne and blemishes, and uneven makeup application. If you're taking the time to apply makeup, you want it to look flawless, so even if you're not noticing any complexion issues, you'll still want to start cleansing your tools. regularly. Here's what the pros recommend for keeping your brushes clean and your complexion clear.

woman grabbing makeup brushes
Credit: RossHelen/Getty Images

Pro Tips for Cleaning Makeup Brushes

You'll find plenty of wipes, liquid cleaners, and even solid, soap-like makeup brush cleaners in the cosmetics aisle at your favorite beauty store and department-store beauty counters. But the pros say you can substitute (often expensive) makeup brush cleansers for other common beauty-aisle items. Makeup artist Jamie Greenberg says most people need only a basic bar soap, such as a Dove Beauty Bar ($27 for 14-pack, Amazon), to get the job done. A dedicated brush cleanser, which Angella Valentine, makeup artist for Late Night with Seth Meyers, uses when working with guests on the show, is more of a "clean-as-you-go product." One top-rated cleaner is the Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner Pro Starter Kit ($25, Sephora). Rather than a routine, deep-clean product, it quickly removes color from brushes before you dip them in another compact.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes

The bar of soap method is not only affordable, but it's also super easy. To cleanse your brushes, here's what you need to do:

  1. Swirl the makeup brush on a bar of soap under a running faucet. Work out the oils or colors onto the bar until the water runs clear. Be gentle so as not to damage the brush bristles or sponge applicator.
  2. Rinse the makeup brush lightly until all the soap is gone and the water runs clear.
  3. Dry your brushes carefully. After rinsing your brushes of soap residue, reshape the brush hairs and lay them on a towel to dry. Standing them up in a cup or storage container can cause the water to drip down the brush, which Greenberg says will rust the ferrule or rot the wooden handle. It could take several hours for them to dry completely, so plan to wash your makeup brushes in the evening and let them dry flat overnight.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes Naturally

If you already have a favorite natural mild soap, shampoo, or face wash, you have a go-to natural makeup brush cleaner. If you don't have one at home, try Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap ($13, Amazon). Just be sure it is fragrance-free and doesn't contain anything that will irritate your skin, and get to cleaning.

Cleaning Beauty Sponges

Makeup sponges like Beauty Blenders ($20, Ulta) are tiny miracle workers, but they also need a good cleaning from time to time. Again, gentle and mild cleaners are crucial. Rinse the sponge under warm water with a tiny bit of cleanser, gently squeeze to remove excess moisture, and let dry. Avoid wringing or twisting, as this can cause the makeup sponge to break down.

More Makeup Brush Cleaners

Baby shampoos, known for their mildness, are also a favorite for cleaning makeup brushes. Many baby shampoos use natural ingredients, so if using natural products is a priority for you, look in the baby aisle. One option is the Purely Sensitive Shampoo and Body Wash ($10, Honest Beauty.) You'll often find small bottles of baby shampoo in the travel-size section, so you don't have to find storage space in your bathroom for yet another bulky bottle.

Some people also like to condition their brushes, which is especially important for natural bristle brushes. To do so, turn to baby oil, such as Organic Body Oil ($10, Honest Company) or liquified coconut oil, like Nutiva Organic Unrefined, Liquid Coconut Oil ($22, Amazon) to get the job done. Swirl the makeup brush head gently and lightly in a few drops of oil. Rinse with water and gently dab to remove excess moisture and lay flat to dry.

And of course, there is a wide variety of cleaners made specifically for cleaning makeup brushes. If you go this route, read the label, match the cleaner to your type of brush, check out the ingredients list, and always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

In a world of beauty hacks (some proven, some not), proceed with caution when using makeup brush cleaning hacks, such as using vinegar or your microwave to clean a beauty sponge. Although these may seem ingenious, intense cleaning methods do more harm than good to your makeup brushes.

How Often Should You Wash Your Makeup Brushes?

Greenberg recommends cleaning makeup brushes once a week, or, at the very least, once a month. So how do you know when it's time to clean your makeup brushes? Grab a mirror. Brushes overdue for cleaning might have caused that bothersome blemish on your cheek. Dirty makeup brushes could also be the reason your blush has been looking blotchy and your eyeshadow refuses to blend. According to Valentine, clean brush hair adheres to the product better, resulting in more even distribution of color.

There are many affordable makeup brushes on the market, so you might be tempted just to buy a few new ones—for example, the BH Cosmetics Signature Rose Gold 13-Piece Brush Set ($26, Ulta). But, the more you care for your makeup brushes, the longer they'll last, especially if they're high-quality. If you're diligent about keeping your makeup brushes and applicators clean, you can feel good about spending a few extra dollars on high-quality versions, such as the Sephora Collection Pro 6-Piece Brush Set ($85, Sephora), which might do a better job of applying makeup than their inexpensive counterparts. Plus, longer-lasting brushes mean fewer disposable ones in the landfill.

Although the buildup on makeup brushes is off-putting, getting them back to pristine condition is easy, and you likely already have what you need to get the job done. So grab some soap, baby shampoo, or makeup brush cleaner, and you'll be on your way to a cleaner makeup routine in no time.

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